THE Victorian Government’s decision to vote down the presumptive rights legislation to improve cancer compensation for CFA volunteers is a slap in the face for members, according to Echuca Fire Brigade captain Paul Nicoll.
The proposed legislation, introduced by the Liberal Nationals, would have allowed volunteer firefighters to claim compensation for certain cancers without having to prove firefighting was the cause.
It would be presumed they contracted the cancer because of their firefighting service and be entitled to compensation under the WorkSafe scheme.
‘‘I despair for the good men and women volunteers of the CFA who are now going to have to fight for any form of compensation, should they unfortunately become ill as a result of fighting fires,’’ Mr Nicoll said.
‘‘Why should the rules for volunteer firefighters be so different from those that apply to paid firefighters?’’
Mr Nicoll said the Labor Government’s move to vote down the bill in State Parliament last week showed it did not care about CFA volunteers.
‘‘It’s a sad day for volunteers, who are not valued by the current government,’’ he said.
‘‘The bill would have meant volunteers could safely and conscientiously serve the community and be covered if anything went wrong illness wise.
‘‘It seems the government has one rule for permanent staff and one rule for volunteers.
‘‘Volunteers attend more fires than permanent staff and are more exposed, particularly in busy brigades, to fires that cause cancers.
‘‘Paid firefighters, on most occasions, attend only 25 per cent of fires their brigade receives. This is because those brigades have four individual shifts. In fully volunteer brigades, firefighters attend almost all their brigades fires, yet the volunteers have a significant fight on their hands should they become ill from attending those fires.
‘‘The volunteer firefighters, purely because they don’t get paid, are now condemned to a long hard struggle for compensation when they become ill as a result of protecting their community and attending fires.
‘‘Volunteer firefighters have a right to be compensated in exactly the same manner that paid firefighters are when it comes to fire-related illnesses. It is unreasonable and inhumane to think it should be any different.’’
Mr Nicoll said CFA volunteer firefighters were extremely angry the government cared so little about their health and wellbeing.
He said it was time for a change of government and urged the community to ‘‘carefully consider how they vote’’ before the next election.
Leader of The Nationals and Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said Premier Daniel Andrews had sold out the CFA.
‘‘Daniel Andrews contempt for volunteer firefighters has tumbled to a new low at the expense of his cosy arrangement with Peter Marshall and his union mates,’’ Mr Walsh said.
‘‘The health and wellbeing of our firefighters continues to be used as a political tool by Daniel Andrews as part of his controversial plans to tear up the CFA.’’
Mr Walsh said the Liberal Nationals’ Private Members Bill addressed only presumptive legislation – no ties attached to the unrelated CFA reforms.
‘‘It backdated eligibility to March 9, 2015, meaning more firefighters would be covered by the Liberal Nationals bill than under Daniel Andrews, and it removed unnecessary and unfair barriers to volunteers to make the path for cancer compensation the same for both career and volunteer firefighters,’’ he said.
‘‘The Liberal Nationals bill would have simplified the process for sick firefighters.
‘‘At the next election Victorians have a clear choice between Daniel Andrews who wants to tear apart the CFA and limit the cancer compensation rights for volunteers or a Liberal Nationals government that will protect our CFA and give all firefighters a fair go.’’